First month down and some interesting developments so far.
Our performance in friendlies has been encouraging with 5 wins out of 5 and 24 goals scored.
Each match introduced something new to think about but without doubt the most interesting developments came with the Roma game. At half time we were 1-2 down, only to run out in the second half comfortable winners, firing 6 goals into the onion bag. So what happened? Well, before I tell you, let’s go back in time a little bit…
Long time FM players will remember a time before tactical philosophies, styles, roles and duties when managers had to use sliders to set up how they wanted their players to play. I spent hours trawling through tactics boards, trying to find a winning formula. The introduction of the roles and duties approach, doing away with the sliders, was a logical progression that on the face of it, made tactic building easier.
But there was a problem, at least for me. The use of sliders, whilst complicated, kept everything bespoke. By switching to roles and duties and introducing philosophies and styles, suddenly labels appeared that weren’t there before. What sort of manager am I? None of the labels seemed to fit.
And so I took to the tactic forums once again and found a wonderful guide that used real life managerial examples and set out, in FM terms, how they line up. This was great! I could copy a manager I respected and, rather than figure out my own identity, just steal someone else’s.
Of course this rather says something about my own lack of confidence and identity, a topic for another time, but the point is that I found a post about my man Rafa Benitez. The guide pegged him as a fluid manager, utilising a line of 3 attacking mids behind a supporting centre forward. This seemed like a nonsense to me, a centre forward should always be on attack so that he scores goals. But I slavishly copied without ever really understanding what I was doing because this guide written by someone I didn’t know told me that’s what Rafa would do.
Which is a very long winded way of getting to the fact that, after a couple of friendlies I began to make some tactical changes. Despite winning the second match handsomely, I wasn’t happy with the quality of football being played. After reading another online guide (I know, I know…) I made the switch from Structured to Fluid. It made sense, the Fluid philosophy more suited to a team of intelligent, technically capable players. And despite only winning 3-0 next time out, the football on display was superb as we crafted chance after chance.
Still, Coutinho was struggling to make much of an impact. Whilst I remain committed to not placing too many eggs in one basket, I expect him to be a top performer and so if he isn’t, I am prepared to consider changes. Against my better judgement I switched him out to the left but retained him as playmaker, Lallana coming infield as a plain old attacking mid. I was instantly rewarded as Coutinho completely ran the show, looking every inch the player we see in real life.
Ever incapable of making my own decisions, before the next game I switched Coutinho from attack to support because the tactic board said it suited him better. A further problem though in that Sturridge, switched from poacher to advanced forward and now complete forward was not getting involved, often finding himself isolated. This was never more evident that in the first half against Roma. And so at half time I made the reluctant switch to place him on support and Coutinho back to attack, my reluctance borne out of a sense that I was simply reverting to type.
It bloody well worked.
And I think I get it too. I have to be careful not to allow myself to think that, just because I have ended up doing something I used to do that it makes it inherently wrong or weak willed. I switched my bank of AM players to attack and my striker to support because I recognised that my striker was isolated and taking pot shots. On support, he remained a presence in the box but would now pull back too, creating space for onrushing attackers from deep, either giving them an opportunity to score or finding himself in a better position to do so himself. The change to fluid was also logical and evidence based, leading to more and higher quality chances. And besides, I have gone against the tactics creator to set Countinho to the role that works for me.
I appreciate that to some extent I am overthinking and over complicating things. Certainly my brother thinks so as he has fun just smashing teams with his 442. But this is what I enjoy about FM. I like to feel that I am having an influence, that my decisions cause the team to win or lose. I have no desire to return to the Diablo days of a single tactic that sweeps all before it. Sometimes cooking the meal is almost more satisfying than eating it.
* I find myself somewhat overwhelmed by the game so far. Despite most of it being familiar to me, I feel a little lost. No transfers made so far, only a couple of staff hired and modest scouting undertaken. I have struggled to connect with it and even started to have doubts about whether I should have bought it.
* It hasn’t been helped by limited game time as the New Year brought a sickness bug. I also find myself highly stressed and consequently very tired as I try to manage some work difficulties whilst balancing being a father of 3 demandathons. My PC is also painfully slow, the RAM upgrade I got for Christmas sadly incompatible.
* Underpinning this though is the lingering sense of needing to do everything ‘right.’ I’m not sure where this internal judgement comes from but I retain this sense of treating FM as different from any other game I play. I’m scared to sign players, scared to respond to media, scared to talk to the players in case they react negatively.
* Again, the Roma result helped to offset some of this. At 1-2 down, I started to wonder if this was going to be a grind but by taking control of my team and making reactive changes, I suddenly felt alive. This is what FM is about.
* And actually the lack of transfer activity is a conscious decision. My relative withdrawal from football over the last couple of years means that I don’t know players at the level I used to. I need to reeducate myself by using the scouts and until I do so, I don’t want to rush in and splash the cash just because it’s there. And hey, maybe there is a hidden gem in the youth team just waiting to be discovered.